The Concept of Power and State in the Light of Islam


After we have generally discussed about Islam and politics in my previous article titled Should Islam and politics be separated?, there is a great need to pick up a pace a bit forward looking into other important elements that build up the family of politics. I believe that now we know that politics is about running the affairs of political institutions. To be specific we mean running the government.

As the term suggest, political power simply put to have influence politically over the masses. Power in this sense means to make other people do something that they don’t want to do. Power is therefore an important and fundamental element of the state. ‘State’ according to ancient Greek political thinkers’ icons like Plato and Aristotle; is supposed to exist for the purpose of seeking the common good and moral perfection. Furthermore, they argued that man is by nature a political animal who always need to stay in a community.

But contrary to their views are Machiavelli, Weber and Max who viewed State in a very different way. The former viewed man (architecture of the state) as self-interested creature who has a perpetual desire for power to rule. Due to this view the forces of the state changed from morality and virtue to the struggle of power and authority. Max on his part believed that state is the product of class struggle and that it is always controlled by the affluent in the society. Meaning to say, the rich dominate everything in the polity living the poor masses staving with poverty despite paying taxes. Concurrently, weber to certain extent agreed with Max that state is nothing but a relationship of man dominating another man.

It is noteworthy to state here that sovereignty is the fundamental principle of the state which vests absolute power and authority in the hands of man over other men taking all legal decisions of the state. Once a person is elected in this sense, he automatically becomes the law maker and controller of everything concerning government.

Contrary to this understanding is the Islamic view point on the concepts of power and state. In Islamic perspective, sovereignty belongs to Allah alone. Man is Allah’s vicegerent and he is therefore vested with authority in certain spheres as a trust such as discharging government duties for which he is answerable and accountable to Allah and to the people. To buttress this point, the Holy Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him said: “Every one of you is a steward, and every one of you is accountable for that which is committed to his care”. In this regard, running the affairs of the state is a sacred duty and that those carrying it must understand that they are answerable to the Almighty Allah.

To this end, man has no right to exploit another man or to use him as means of furthering his personal interests just as it is commonly found in our nations today, where politicians play a role of monsters rather than servants of the nation. Instead of promoting tolerance, unity, prosperity, mutual respect and justice among the people, they promote corruption and poverty.

This is the reason why we find almost all politicians are well doing people in expense of the poor masses. The question is where do they get this wealth? This is contrary to the aims and responsibilities of the ideal state. The ideal state is that in which the head of state and his/her cabinet exercises authority as a trust. Unequivocally, Allah said in this case: “Allah commands you to entrust authority into the hands of those who are best fitted to discharge it”. (4:59). Meaning those who do not first feed their stomachs before feeding their flocks; those are the right people to take leadership responsibilities because they understand the essence of being a leader.

Thus, the state is regarded in Islamic perspective as a political order established under the Islam principles namely Tawheed; inalienable divinity of Allah. This means that man has no power to order other men to do or not to do certain things except if such actions are legally approved by the creator. Second to this principle is adalah meaning establishing ‘justice for all citizens’ regardless of their social status. In this system of government there are no presidential immunities. All people are solely equal before the law of the land. President in this system can be arrested if he/she does anything against the law and once found guilty is therefore sentenced just like a mere citizen. This symbolizes the highest degree of justice and equality among the people of one nation or society.

Shurah (consensus) is another essential pillar of the state. The government under this system is not mandated to take decisions without consulting the citizens because every decision taken is of their high concern. This process should be done not by coercion or persuading citizens to agree with something that they could not if given freedom to choose.

Without mincing words, we can explicitly draw a conclusion here that the concepts ‘power and state’ in western perspective, is thus contrary to the Islamic understanding. The former places man at the center of the state as a sovereign who can rule and take decisions without acknowledging the spiritual command; since the base line of politics in this understanding is that politics is a ‘value free enterprise’; whereas the later believes that sovereignty which simply means power, authority and influence is in the hands of the creator and not man; hence leaders in this system know that they are accountable to Him in every single action they do.

Since man is nothing in this earth, but a vicegerent of Allah; he must then discharge his/her state duties with conscious. He/she must be a cornerstone of promoting justice, equality, unity, love and prosperity in his/her country. Taking into account that he/she is accountable before the creator of the citizens he/she is mistreating of that particular polity.

Author of this article is a Malawian political scientist currently residing in Malaysia.